Donald Trump recently patted himself on the back for actually presenting a plan to rescue the nation’s overstressed moms. While some say the initiative shows that the debate over working women’s struggles is now truly bipartisan, it also shows how regressive the political conversation on gender inequality remains.
Trump’s plan offers six weeks of paid maternity leave (note that it’s only for mothers), funded by a speculative windfall supposedly generated through fixing “fraud” in the unemployment insurance system. The underlying assumptions are that (1) maternity leave should be guaranteed, but an employer has no obligation to extend this benefit to men so they can be caregivers to their newborns as well, and that (2) there’s enough abuse in the (deeply underfunded) unemployment insurance trust that getting rid of “cheating” will save a meaningful amount of money—an extremely dubious prospect, according to analysts.
Out in the real world, more progressive proposals have been introduced or even implemented on the state and national level. The proposed Family Act, for example, not to mention Clinton’s plan, would provide income for up to three months’ leave for a range of family duties including self-care and parental leave, replacing about two-thirds of a worker’s regular salary.
Trump’s idea to tether maternity benefits to unemployment insurance carries added risks for women. Jeffrey Hayes of the Institute for Women’s Policy and Research (IWPR) points out that unemployment-insurance claims could end up costing employers more, depending on their usage of the program. “Those with a female work force taking maternity leaves might get assessed more and either discourage maternity leave taking or build in gender bias into hiring decisions.”
So a benefit that’s intended to direct much-needed funds to women caring for newborns could lead to more gender discrimination. Hardly a boon for women in the workplace.
On top of the half-baked family-leave plan, Trump’s childcare plan essentially amounts to a glorified tax credit that might cover one month of daycare for a typical urban household. This is simply not sustainable on a practical level but, more troublingly, it also disregards a key blind spot that has hampered the advancement of early childhood education and childcare as a pillar of the welfare infrastructure: treating this as a serious job and a real, vital workforce.